At the beginning of the 2012 season, it was the train of thought that the Tigers farm system was much heavier on starting pitching than on anything else in the system. As is often the case with farm systems, things can change rather quickly, and now the farm system has taken a step forward with some of it’s positional talent. One of the reasons that the Tigers positional talent has taken a step forward is Eugenio Suarez. Suarez has been manning the shortstop position for the West Michigan Whitecaps this season, and has put himself on the map as a guy that fans can have a little bit of tempered excitement about.
It isn’t accurate to suggest that Suarez has come out of nowhere this season. While his prospect status has taken quite a big jump, 2011 was a strong season for the brand new 21 year old, who celebrated his birthday the other day going 4-4. As a 20 year old in the Gulf Coast League and Connecticut, Suarez hit .266 with an OPS of .802 in his two stops last season. Despite showing some pop as a middle infielder, putting up good numbers, there were some questions about Suarez heading into 2012. Mainly, every person I talked to about Suarez cautioned that the tools weren’t loud enough to project him as anything more than a utility player.
As 2012 came around, I was a little surprised when I noticed that Suarez was playing SS every day for the West Michigan Whitecaps, especially considering Brandon Loy was on the roster. Loy is known for his exceptional defensive ability, and the assumption was that Suarez fit better at 2nd base. The Tigers organization must not have thought so. Suarez has been entrenched at SS all season, and reports on his defense range anywhere from a potential solid major leaguer to a plus defender at the position.
While Suarez isn’t the most athletically gifted player, he isn’t a slouch. It’s the things that you can’t measure that have made Suarez a better than average defender. Suarez, has a good enough arm to stick at SS, but his lateral quickness to both sides allow him to get to more baseballs than most. His anticipation is good, and he knows how to get the proper hops necessary to make most plays. His throws are accurate as well. While none of his defensive skills necessarily rate as plus, when you put them together, the Tigers have themselves a very good defender.
Offensively, Suarez is still a work in progress despite the type of numbers we are seeing him put up in 2012. There is still a little too much swing and miss in his game, though he is willing to take a walk. His K rate is around the same as last year at 18%, but if people are paying attention, they will notice that Suarez has improved his K rate quite a bit in the past two months. Suarez struck out 52 times in his first 203 at-bats. That rate has been cut down to just 24 K’s in his last 140 at-bats. His BB rate has seen an uptick since 2011 as well. Suarez walked in 8% of his at-bats last season, while he is at 12% this season.
It isn’t massive power, but it’s pretty good. Suarez isn’t a home run hitter, and likely never will be. He does square up the baseball nicely and drive the ball into the gaps. So far in 2012 for the Whitecaps, he has totaled 29 doubles, 3 triples, and 5 home runs. He has also stolen 15 of 21 bases. Again, we aren’t seeing Suarez stand out in one particular aspect, but taken as a whole, we are beginning to see a nice player. Going into tonight’s game, Suarez is hitting .318 on the season with an OPS of .881, those numbers no doubt helped along by a healthy BABIP of .390.
Still, those are impressive numbers for a low A middle infielder, who isn’t considered to be much of a prospect on the national stage, and since he is age appropriate for his league, this isn’t a case of a guy that is too old dominating younger players.
As much as I like what Suarez is doing, he is still going to have to prove it at higher levels of course. Next season is a big one for him. He will be starting the 2013 season as a 21 year old somewhere, and whether that be in Lakeland or Erie is likely to depend on the type of fall and spring he has.
I still have yet to find anyone that is impressed by any of Suarez’ tools enough to call them plus. That’s fine by me. His numbers suggest a guy that is improving, even as the season has gone along. But I will tell you what else I have heard. The more that people watch Suarez, the more they like what he does on a baseball field as an overall package. To me, that might be the greatest compliment of all to a baseball player. It means that there isn’t anything he does so bad that it sticks out to scouts on a baseball field.
I would always encourage fans to exercise some amount of caution when prospect watching, but with Suarez, I think it’s okay to be cautiously optimistic. Let’s hope he continues on his path of success.